Is Ultra-Pasteurized Milk Bad?

Is Ultra-Pasteurized Milk Bad? - Organic Valley Milk

Have you ever noticed how the big brand organic milks have a much later expiration date than some of the other regular milk options? I’m talking weeks later.

While organic milks may seem “fresher” than conventional milk since they are (thankfully) free of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs, the later date it is actually because a different pasteurization technique has been used.

I briefly touched on this topic in a post I wrote a couple years ago about what kind of milk we drink (and why), and today I’m excited to dive into this topic a little deeper.

A big thanks to Organic Valley for agreeing to answer all my questions about the mysterious process of pasteurization for this month’s sponsored post. I spent over an hour picking the brain of their very experienced Milk and Cream Brand Manager, which, as a side note, also gave me a chance to ask him why the heavy cream of theirs I can find at my store has carrageenan in it – a burning question I know many of us have!

For starters, let’s quickly cover what it means when milk is pasteurized in the first place – I know I barely even spoke the word “pasteurization” before I started wondering where my food came from!

Not to be confused with homogenization, pasteurization is when the raw milk that comes straight from the cow is heated to kill bacteria (both good and bad) to help prevent food poisoning from the bad bacteria and to also extend the life of the milk. There’s a lot of controversy over how safe raw milk is to drink, and since it’s actually illegal for human consumption here in NC (where we live) I prefer to stay out of that debate! And so, pasteurized milk it is for us.

Pasteurization Technologies

Here’s the breakdown of what I learned about some common pasteurization methods…

Pasteurization Process Labeled As Temperature Duration Expiration Before Opening Expiration After Opening
High Temperature Short Time (HTST) Pasteurized 161°F 15 seconds About 16 – 21 days About 5 days
Ultra High Temperature (UHT) Ultra Pasteurized (UP) 280°F 2 seconds About 70 days About 5 days
Ultra High Temperature (UHT) Aseptic Milk* 280°F 2 seconds Up to 6 months* About 5 days
Vat Pasteurization
usually reserved for higher butter fat items
Vat Pasteurized 145°F 30 minutes About 2 to 2 1/2 weeks About 5 days

*I was surprised to learn that shelf-stable aseptic milk goes through the exact same process as the UP milk, but in a completely sterile environment and then added to sterile packaging (therefore eliminating any bacteria in the air or packaging). So the main difference between aseptic milk and the refrigerated stuff is the packaging! It’s commonly found in Europe since refrigeration throughout the supply chain and dairy cases are not as common, and it is also often sold in single-serve milk boxes here in the US (which I find incredibly convenient when we’re traveling or camping).

Is Ultra-Pasteurized Milk Bad?

I’ve long said I prefer my cow’s milk to be pasteurized at the lowest temperature allowed in order to preserve as much of the good bacteria as possible. But, as it turns out, heat treatment (at any level) by definition kills up to 99.9% of the bacteria in milk! So when you put it like that you realize the difference between the pasteurization options, such as HTST versus UHT, is pretty minimal.

Now, this doesn’t mean I am going to suddenly change my ways, but when we travel I can often only find the UP milk so let’s just say going forward I won’t feel bad at all about making that purchase.

Considering nutrition, this chart does show a difference between raw milk and the pasteurized milk, but (as I mentioned) not so much between the two different methods of pasteurization that are being compared.

Is Ultra-Pasteurized Milk Bad? - Vitamin loss in HTST and UHT milk

Why Offer Ultra-Pasteurization?

The fact of the matter is more retailers are willing to take on and offer organic milk if they feel confident they can sell their cases before they spoil. There is obviously a BIG difference between 21 days and 70 days when it comes to selling through a case of milk (see chart above), and since I am a huge proponent of organic products being available for purchase no matter where you live and shop I think this all makes a lot of sense.

Plus some consumers even prefer their milk to be ultra high temperature pasteurized knowing it will last longer in their fridge before they decide to open it. So, given those points, Organic Valley happily produces and sells milk that’s gone through UHT processing and HTST processing.

Cream and Milk Options

So, as I mentioned above, I had to ask my contact at Organic Valley why they put carrageenan in their cream (an additive that some find questionable). Little did I know they actually offer two different cream options – one with it and one without! And I’m so glad I asked this question because it led to discussion about how there are so many different milk and cream options out there and how your grocer won’t know what you prefer if you don’t take the time to ask for it.

As it turns out the Organic Valley cream that’s UP needs the carrageenan to act as a stabilizer since the higher temperature makes the product want to separate, but it’s not as much of an issue with HTST so it doesn’t need to be added. If your grocer only offers one and you prefer the other, you know what to do! :) But remember the HTST won’t have as long of a shelf-life so they’d have to be confident they could sell through their stock before it spoils.

Same goes for your milk when it comes to all the options out there – do you prefer grass-fed, non-homogenized, HTST, etc. and can’t find it? Then it’s time to have that chat with your grocery store (and maybe ask your friends to put in a similar request) because all these options do exist. Check out this list of what Organic Valley offers to help you know what to ask for. I didn’t know I should ask for the different cream because I didn’t even realize they made it until I had this conversation!

Milk Labels We Can Trust

Just like the rest of the food industry many dairy producers like to throw around labels on their packaging that aren’t regulated therefore they’re hard to believe. I think the bottom line here is if it’s coming from a company we can trust then there might be some truth to the non-regulated terms.

Regulated Terms

  • USDA Organic
  • Pasteurized
  • Homogenized
  • Type of Milk: Whole, 2%, etc.
  • Grade A
  • Nutrition Facts
  • Ingredients
  • Excellent Source Of…

So just like the word “natural” in other areas of the grocery store, this means unregulated terms like “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised” – especially on a conventional product – can (unfortunately) mean just about anything. But, if it’s coming from a company that you trust, it can hold more weight.

For example, dairy products that are USDA Organic certified are expected to come from animals with a minimum of 30% grass/pasture in their diet, BUT Organic Valley has decided to go above and beyond that rule and ensure their products instead meet a 60% minimum standard (over the course of a year). I’ve worked with Organic Valley for a while now and even visited one of their farms with my family – for reasons like this I do think it’s a company we can trust.

I hope this was helpful and would love to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments!

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117 thoughts on “Is Ultra-Pasteurized Milk Bad?”

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  1. Is it my imagination or does the Ultra Pasteurized milk culture differently or not at all? I’m making yogurt and sour cream and having a difficult time “growing” my bacteria on the Ultra Pasteurized milk.

  2. Sorry, but you clearly are clueless as to how milk is handled in other countries. There’s no difference in Europe compared to what you have described, nor in Asia.
    As pointed out, UHT milk is not great when it comes to making cheese or even yoghurt from it, as the protein in the milk has changed and doesn’t curdle the way it does in non UHT milk.

  3. The reason for UHT is to increase corporate profits, great if they are not a impact to health. A good example of a product that was great for corporate profits and detrimental to human health is Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (transfats or best known as crisco). It was suppose to be better than animal fats that humans have been using for thousands of years. So Lisa a question for the milk companies is how does the high heat effect the fragile omega 3 and 6 (any free radicals formed)?

    Thanks,
    Dean

  4. Good information. I buy Kroger’s ultra-pasteurized pints, small household and rarely use more than a pint at a time. I used to have to throw milk away that spoiled before opening, so I love the prolonged shelf life. My question, I noticed that the carton says “refrigerate after opening”. In the store it is sold refrigerated with the other dairy products, but can it be stored unopened at room temp?

    1. After opening, MUST be refrigerated or it will go bad quickly. Found that out as an exchange student in Austria encountering shelf-stable milk packaging in the grocery store for the first time.

  5. I make home made kefir and the best results are from organic short shelf life milk. When I used UP milk the kefir grains started to turn grey and eventually died. This tells me there is something is seriously missing or deficient in this method and I will never use it anymore.

  6. You couldn’t be more WRONG about Ultra Pasteurized Milk. Think about this… Water boils at 212 degrees. And you want me to believe that heating milk to 280 degrees doesn’t damage it? Organic Valley is filling your head with marketing lies (Like all Big Dairy). The entire Corporate Dairy industry is a lie! UP Milk is DEAD Food.

    1. So what if it is DEAD? The problem with unpasteurized milk is that it can contain a lot of very ALIVE things that can kill people (especially young people). You’d prefer the inevitable deaths that come from consuming raw milk, as long as you don’t consume heat-treated milk? Ridiculous, and arrogant.

    2. Yes. It is known that ultra pasteurization changes the protein structure of the milk. Traditional cheese-making, for instance, with UP milk doesn’t work. We could use some studies on digestibility and other physiological effects of UP milk. Protein srructure is important when enzymes are splitting proteins into usable amino axids.

  7. My wife runs a small dairy farm here on a small island in Scotland, and recently we have begun pasteurising our milk for sale in local shops. First of all, let me mention that we ourselves and our children drink the milk raw, and have done for many years. But by law in Scotland we have to pasteurise it in order to sell it. We use the old slow low temperature batch pasteurising method, heating it to between 63˚C and 65˚C (our pasteurisation vessel can’t easily be more accurate than that) and holding it there for 30 minutes. We then chill it, and bottle it in glass bottles. The response in the local market area (Kintyre) has been phenomenal. People say they haven’t tasted such good milk in 30 years. If they are young, they exclaim that they have never tasted milk this good. If you compare the taste of milk treated this way with the taste of UHT milk, you would never choose UHT.

  8. I grew up drinking milk from Wisconsin dairy cows, and when I moved to California, I found the ‘happy cows’ milk tastes awful. I was excited to try the ultra pasteurized milks on the market. I find they taste better and have a creamier consistency. I do not, however, agree that the shelf life of opened milk that has been UHT-processed is only 5 days. I routinely opened regular milk. To have it spoil in mere days, while my opened UHT milk lasts a month. And I’ve never found UHT milk in a clear or translucent container.

  9. UP milk causes violent stomachaches for me. Couldn’t find regular pasteurized milk any more so I finally gave up altogether on cow’s milk & started drinking soy milk exclusively. Then I discovered one brand of goat’s milk that is pasteurized but not UP. Voila! no stomachaches. Been drinking Summerhill goat milk for some time now & I’m sticking to it!

  10. If there is no nutritional difference between pasturized and ultra-pasturized milk then why is it that a kefir grain will not make kefir in ultra-pasturized milk, but it will in pasturized milk? Something is missing here.

  11. Humans are also the only animals that eat cooked food (well, at least intentionally after a forest fire pretty much every animal eats cooked food). Doesn’t that make cooked food bad? Humans eat dairy products because it’s a method to preserve the abundance of food in summer through the winter. Duh. Before agriculture and food preservation the average life expectancy for a human was 17 years.

      1. Couldn’t the argument be made that they lived longer in bible times because they were closer to perfection? It took a while to to become as imperfect as we are now…

  12. This article would have been helpful if just pasteurized milk was included in the results. And it would also have been useful to have discussed the impact of D3 by the different processes. So this seems to have just been an ad by Organic Valley.

      1. Absolutely agree! Do the proper research and look at the detrimental effects to the enzymes as well as amino acids – protein.

      2. Hi Rich,

        but if that’s the case what about raw or unpasteurized milk that’s is eventually used in coffee, or cooked with? What about ALL food? Do you eat eggs, chicken, raw or “slightly cooked”

        Am I missing something here?

  13. You know, cows milk is for baby cows. Humans are the only animals who do not wean themselves of milk. Even worse, from the milk of a mammal for whom the milk was not designed. Cows milk is bad for humans. Full stop. Do the research.

  14. Do not listen to a brand manager. I like how you said, “I think this all makes a lot of sense.” If something ever makes that much sense then it is not a trustworthy source. I appreciate the effort, but real research needs to be done. One cannot simply ask the company about their product. The majority of the time you’ll get a response full of butterflies and rainbows about how great their product is and how their methods make sense.

    1. Really enjoyed to expertise of the COMMENT section for as I was reading the article, seemed to me that the author really enjoyed all the smoke being blown in one’s face!

      The comment section had all the information I had been searching for!

      Basically :UHP produces a dead product. Yep it’s tases good, but is is dead.